• Leading the way... Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas have so far done the lion's share of the work in the mountains for their leader and maillot jaune Chris Froome. (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
"Laurent Fignon used to say that the less prepared struggle on the third day in the mountains," says Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who described today's finish at Plateau de Beille as "frightful"...
16 Jul 2015 - 3:38 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2015 - 4:07 PM

Visited by Le Tour on five previous occasions, on every time except the last, the stage winner has gone on to be crowned champion in Paris.

In 1998 it was Marco Pantani, on Stage 11. In 2002 and 2004 it was, er, ahem, Lance Armstrong, who sort-of-kind-of-not-really won, on Stages 12 and 13, respectively. In 2007 it was Alberto Contador, on Stage 14 from Saint-Gaudens.

"One can think of this climb as the Mont Ventoux of the Pyrénées."

And there on the Plateau de Beille, 16 July 2011, Belgian Jelle Vanendert enjoyed a reversal of fortune on the 15.8 kilometre ascent in the Ariège, Midi-Pyrénées, beating Samuel Sanchez, the man who denied him victory two days before in Luz-Ardiden. Thomas Voeckler, who took the maillot jaune on Stage 9 after a day-long breakaway, stubbornly held onto the golden tunic for another nine stages, only conceding it to Andy Schleck three days from Paris, en route to L'Alpe d'Huez.

Of course, the big story was Cadel Evans turning the tables on the lanky Luxembourger less than 24 hours later in the Grenoble time trial, thus becoming the first - and still only - Australian to win the Tour... or any Grand Tour at all, for that matter.

One can think of this climb as the Mont Ventoux of the Pyrénées, because apart from having a feared repute like le Géant de Provence, it boasts a similar gradient (7.9% over 15.8km versus 7.43% over 21km for the Ventoux), and begins under forest canopy before the smooth tar becomes granular, augmenting the difficulty.

There are no mistral winds to contend with, as is the case with Mont Ventoux. But like le Géant de Provence, when one leaves the hairpinned forest road the gradient eases though becomes more irregular, disrupting the rhythmn of all but the purest of climbers. The final kilometre, at just 2.5 percent average gradient, sees riders switch over to the large chainring before the finish outside the ski station, at an altitude of 1,780 metres.

So then, will the stage winner be the winner for the day, or the winner in Paris?

Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:

"Whatever the situation in the leading positions of the general classification, the rivals of the yellow jersey will really have a good opportunity to challenge him. Frightful, the climb to the Plateau de Beille is made for pure climbers. Laurent Fignon used to say that the less prepared struggle on the third day in the mountains."

Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:

"Very similar to the day before, it'll be one of those days where a break goes in the first 30K, and how things unfold will depend on the composition of the break.

"People will be starting to get tired, and the GC will get a bit more sorted. Whoever's got the (leader's) jersey, will they be happy to let other teams take the glory, or do they want to see their man win again?

"It has the potential to go either way. In any case, a very tough, physical day in the Pyrénées."

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